Your puppy gleefully runs back to you…
Rocket speed, ears and tongue flapping in the breeze, just because you called their name.
That’s what recall training should look like.
However, what Recall Training can often look like instead, is a desperate owner making a scene running after their dog in the park, screaming their name and them just sprinting further away.
But we’re here to make your dreams come true and bring your vision of your dog skipping happily towards you to come to life. Read on to teach your puppy a rock solid recall in no time!
When should I start recall training?
Start recall training as soon as you get your puppy home. Training at home in low levels of distraction means you can control the environment and have your puppy be much more likely to listen to you.
You’ll want to start indoors at first so that it’s easier for your puppy to focus on you. Daisies and squirrels will definitely be more fun to look at – we’ll show you how to move onto more distracting environments later on.
Should I use a whistle in recall training?
Yes, why not? Whistles can be very useful in training a recall for a number of reasons:
- The sound is different to your voice – at least we hope so. Dogs hear us talking all day, so it can end up with them having cymbal-playing monkeys in their head when we use voice alone.
- Probably more effective – When something is shiny and new, we tend to follow the plan more closely. Humans like gadgets, and puppies like things that sound weird. Perfect!
PRO TIP: While the whistle works well, it’s also important to teach other kinds of recall in times you don’t have your whistle on you. Wouldn’t want to get stuck without it!
Step-by-step how to train your puppy to come back to you? (Include some exercises to repeat & tips)
So how do you teach your puppy to come back every single time?
Let’s start off with these five top tips for building a good recal
1. Call for nice things, and always reward.
Let’s not call them out on things they don’t do so well yet, like being too slow. So make sure they get rewarded! Even if they are covered in fox poo. They did the right thing and came when you called them, right?
2. Pick a cue – any cue – use it once!
Stick to the same cue with your dog – picking something like ‘come’ ‘here’ ‘quickly’ or ‘return’ works fine. It doesn’t really matter what word you use, but you’ll want to be consistent and use the same one (as well as the rest of the members of your household) to get the best results.
3. Begin at home and start off easy
Until you’ve trained in lots of different environments, you’ll want to start recall training in a place your puppy can focus on you, and not get distracted by anything else. For most people, this is usually the home. Once you’ve got a good recall in an environment with few distractions, we can shift the training to more exciting and distracting environments like the park or the beach.
4. Use a long line until your recall is reliable
Long lines can be lifesavers for recall. They provide a feeling of safety until your puppy can be trusted off-lead, or when we take them to places which might not be so safe to let them completely off and free.
And yes, you can find our good guide on how to use a long line for recall training below. We know you can’t wait to read it.
5. Vary your rewards
You know what it’s like to eat the same meal every single day. We simply get bored! Dogs are no different. Vary up your rewards with different types of food, play, movement and stroking to keep them excited about doing the right thing.
How to teach a great recall from the very beginning
The first thing you’ll want to teach your puppy is to respond to their name, this is the first step in getting a great recall. A dog who pays attention when you say their name, is a dog who can then respond to the next cue (come).
How to teach your puppy their name
- Say their name in a happy jolly tone and reward them with a yummy treat in their mouth.
- Repeat about 5 times, and then take a break.
- Practice this 2 or 3 times a day to make sure they get the hang of it
- Next time you say their name, throw the treat away from them so they go and collect it from the floor.
- Just as they finish the treat, call their name out. When they whip your head back to look at you, say ‘good’ and then throw the treat in the opposite direction.
- Keep going – at this point, your puppy should start having a super fast head turn and reaction to you saying their name. Hope they don’t get whiplash.
- Remember to have fun! Put lots of energy in to keep your dog’s motivation high.
How to teach your puppy to come to you – first steps
Your puppy already knows their name at this point, so this should be a walk in the park. But if it turns out to be a bit of an uphill struggle, remember that it’s alright – they’ll get there in their own time.
How to do it
- Treats and a cheerful voice will be what works best here.
- Call out your puppy’s name in high spirits and cheerfully once, and not too loudly.
- When they look at you, drop the treat on the ground close to you.
- You don’t need to reach out or grab your puppy when they come to you just yet – you’re just teaching your puppy to ‘hang out near you’ – where all the good stuff happens like treats dropping on the floor.
- Do these exercises before meal times so your puppy is more motivated. Don’t worry, you’re not using a weird starvation bribing system…just being strategic.
- Practice this 5 times a day and in 3 different places in your house and garden. Gotta get them used to coming to you everywhere!
Recall – adding the ‘Come’ cue
You can use any cue you like for this one, but it’s much simpler to use one word that simply rolls off the tongue easily for you, so that it’s memorable for you to use later on. We recommend using a polite word though, don’t want you getting weird looks.
- Say your puppy’s name so that they look at you.
- Drop a treat on the floor when they do.
- Repeat this one more time.
- Now you’ve done it twice, say your puppy’s name just the same as you did before, but this time don’t drop the treat.
- As your puppy comes toward you (because they’re expecting the treat…cheeky) say ‘come’ or ‘here’ to start putting a label or cue word on the behaviour.
- Well done! Reward your puppy with a treat as they get to you.
PRO TIP: Make sure there are no distractions around – we want full focus when we’re training so that the lesson actually sticks. There will be time to chase the postman later. Just joking.
Playing Tennis with your puppy – The Ping Pong Game
Calling a puppy between people helps them realise that different people in your family might call them. That’s right, you won’t be the only one. It’s also fun to get them to come towards people from a longer distance and make the game harder.
You’ll need a friend to help you with this one. A human preferably, an imaginary one won’t do unfortunately.
- Go into a room with no distractions – probably the room they spend most of their time in.
- Have you and your friend kneel down at opposite ends of the room
- Call your puppy’s name and ‘come’. When they come to you, drop the treat on the floor for them to get.
- After your puppy has eaten the treat, have your friend do the same you did. And then do the same. And then it will be your friend’s turn again and so on.
- See? Your puppy ping ponging between the two of you now. Don’t forget to keep rewarding them for coming!
PRO TIP: Start reasonably close together and make the gap between you larger once the idea clicks for your puppy.
Best Dog in the World Recall Game
Each one of us has the best dog in the world, right? Well, this game lets our puppy’s know that for the millionth time – since you probably tell them every day already.
How to play:
- Take your puppy’s favourite toy in your pocket.
- Call your puppy over to you.
- When they come to you, get down on the floor telling them they are the best dog in the world, kissing, cuddling, stroking them (if they’re into that) and playing with their toy for a full three minutes.
Don’t let us stop you from having fun though, you can play this game as long as you like! Your dog will LOVE all of the attention they are getting from you. Who wouldn’t?
If your puppy likes this game (they most likely will) you might also like to check out our article about other games to play with your puppy – we’ve got plenty more recall training exercises in our ZigZag puppy training app so you might want to snoop in that direction too.
Moving The Recall Exercises Outside
Have you been a victim of your puppy listening to you at home but not outside? Well there’s a good reason for that, and it’s called generalisation.
What is generalisation?
Generalisation refers to when your dog is able to do things you have taught them in any setting. For example, when they come back to you whether you’re in your kitchen, at the train station, in your puppy class, or at the pet store…when they’ve just gone bonkers for the squeaky toys.
Here’s the thing though – dogs don’t find generalising very easy. This is where you come in – they’ll need your help practicing lots in different environments.
To get your puppy to master generalisation, decide on 4 different places in your house and garden to practice your recall exercises with your puppy.
PRO TIP: When you take your training outside, you’ll have to do something to take the difficulty down a couple of levels. You’ll soon see that trying to call your puppy past a group of dogs when you’re practicing outside, is going to be an impossible mission, at least for the first couple of times. Instead, it’s much better to pick a quiet spot in the park, and use a long line if you’re worried they won’t listen. They won’t be running away today, no sir!
PRO TIP: Don’t forget about treat values when training outside…they will save you time and time again.
What are treat values?
Different puppies will prefer different treats, just like humans. One person’s food heaven is another one’s food hell! For instance, while my dog is not interested in carrots, others find these the ultimate delicacy.
We split food rewards into a hierarchy of treat values – yes there are hierarchies even in food. Typically, it will look something like this:
High Value Treats: These tend to be human-grade foods or really stinky treats.
- Hot Dogs
- Doggy paste in a tube.
Medium Value Treats: These are the high quality dog treats.
- Dehydrated meats
- Freeze dried treats
- Stinky treats
Low Value Treats: These tend to be the dog’s regular food or vegetables.
- Dry dog food (kibble)
- Sweet potato cubes
If you’re still curious about dog treats (weird interest niche, but okay) click here for our best dog treats review. We have quite a lot your puppy will find irresistible.
How do I know which treats I should use?
It’s easy. Just remember that the bigger the distraction you face, the higher value treats you’ll need.
Do I have to use treats to get my dog back when I call them?
Nope, not necessarily.
You will find your puppy’s high value reward by the way they behave when they get their reward. Lit up eyes are the signs you want to look for. Have they done it?’ Excellent!
For some dogs, food isn’t what truly tickles them – play or a special toy can do the trick.
PRO TIP: Remember that your puppy will let you know what works best for them! At the start, training with food works well because it’s what most puppies need to survive. But there’s always a chance they’ll become interested in other things. Like a cuddle.
Long line and recall lead
What is a long line or recall lead?
Long lines come in various lengths between 3 and 50m.
I like to start off with a 5m since they’re usually long enough for city parks and gives me something to work with in teaching a good recall. They have a clip on one end but no handle on the other – this is done on purpose, to prevent them getting caught on anything and getting into a pickle.
PRO TIP: Don’t be fooled, by ‘long line’, we don’t mean ‘retractable leads’ – those that magically seem to extend from the handle. There are certain instances where I’ll use these of course, like in areas where dogs must be on a lead, but not for recall training. They’re awkward to hold, and if they end up dragging on the floor they can give your puppy quite the fright as they can think the lead is chasing them. Sounds funny to us, but it doesn’t make them laugh I’m sure.
How to use a long line for puppy recall training
Long lines or recall leads are a great way to keep your puppy safe when in the early stages of practicing your recall as they encourage your puppy to listen to you, and prevent them from wanting to find enjoyment from their environments. Sounds harsh, but for now it’s what you’ll need to help them ace the recall game.
Here’s how you use a long line: Once you’ve been practicing your recalls and you’re sure your puppy is listening to you, you can allow the line to drag on the ground.
PRO TIP: Make sure you’re certain that your recall is going to work! Otherwise, keep the line in your hands to avoid getting into a chaotic chasing scene at the park with your puppy ignoring you.
PRO TIP: Remember you’re holding a long line, not a fishing line. If you’ve had to stop your puppy when the line is on the ground, reel them in by gently working your way up the line – never pull your puppy in as this will make them build a rather unflattering memory of the line, even if it’s just there for their safety.
PRO TIP: If they ignore your cue, work your way up the line and make the distance shorter so that you can get their attention more easily on the next rep.
Tips for long line safety
- Always have a long line attached to your puppy’s harness – never a collar. If they run to the end of the line on a collar they can injure themselves, wouldn’t want that! Be careful in using it in twiggy or heathery areas where the line might get caught on something too.
- Choose a soft long line that’s comfortable for you to hold.
- When holding the line in your hand don’t wrap it around your hand (unless you want some broken knuckles or a friction burn). Instead, loop it in free falling loops so it will come out of your hand. No missing fingers today! (see pics) You can also use gloves for when the line gets wet and muddy.
- Tie a few knots in the line – these act as a brake in case something goes wrong with your training and you need to stop your puppy. Stand on the line and the knot will catch under your foot (rather than slip under) and everything will come to a stop. Resist the temptation to grab it with your hands, you’ll get rope burn!
- Long lines can be a trip hazard to other people, so keep track of where the line is at all times if you don’t want to get sued.
Tips for getting a great puppy recall
- Don’t hesitate to use some attention noises (you know, those nice kissy noises, going pup-pup-pup, or clapping your hands). Then, back up keeping your body away from your puppy and call them in.
- When your puppy gets to you, reassure them with your voice, treats or their favourite toy. It will show them what a truly good job they’ve done.
- You can let them go when they’ve had your reward, by telling them to ‘go play’ – this will let them know you don’t need them to be so focussed on you and they can go do their thing.
- Think about your reward value – remember that big distractions (such as being in the park) are going to need a high value reward. Lower distraction environments such as in your house might mean you only have to use a lower value reward – just remember the dog still has to like the reward…otherwise it simply won’t do the trick. Make sure to keep them tasty!
- Try rapid fire rounds on the treats. When your puppy gets to you, don’t just give them one treat – surprise them with three or five, or seven, one after the other. They will be sticking to you like glue! It’ll be like they hit the jackpot.
The D’s of dog training and how they apply to recall training
Distance: How far did you call them? Build on this so that you can get longer recall distances. When you move to a new distracting place, cut the distance slightly to make it easy for your puppy to respond.
Distraction: What are you calling them from? Is it easy or is it hard? Is it close or far away? All these questions you have to ask yourself…
PRO TIP: Use a quiet voice to call away from a distraction, and then give them an incredible reward like a stinky piece of dried meat. You can also see our ‘best dog in the world recall’ game for this, it’ll give you some good ideas.
PRO TIP: Although distractions can be distracting (duh), you can also use them as reinforcers to keep them on their toes. Try calling them away from a person with treats, then give them the green light to ‘go play’ to go back to the person to get their reward from the ‘distracting person’.
What to do when my puppy doesn’t recall?
Remember that calling your puppy is a lot like you placing a bet. You’re putting 20 quid on the fact that they will come – if you wouldn’t put money on it, don’t call them!
If your puppy doesn’t come when you call them, here are some things you can try:
- Clapping your hands or making a kissy noise – get low to the floor and make yourself sound very silly. Come on, don’t be shy.
- Getting closer so that it’s easier to get their attention. Don’t play keep away or have them thinking you’re chasing them as they might enjoy that as a fun game!
- Running away – this is an epic game for loads of puppies…it’s like they’re chasing prey.
- Pretending the floor is really interesting and having an inquisitive ‘oooh what’s this down there?’ moment in a silly voice while staring at the floor. This will make the most curious puppies want to know desperately what’s going on down there.
- Having an emergency squeaker to squeeze like these Kong balls in your pocket – the noise should attract them.
- Lure your puppy – walk up to them slowly like a tiger, pop a stinky treat on their nose and then run away backwards with the treat. They’ll be the ones hunting you down like a tiger this time.
- Make a mental note of what causes them to not respond, and then use it as a training exercise (with a long line) for the next time.
When they do finally come – you might not want to give that high value reward just yet, but do still want to reward them with something like verbal praise so that they recognise they’ve done the right thing. As long as you sound cheerful, you can say anything! Also, you don’t want to be spending all your money on expensive tasty treats for the rest of time.
PRO TIP: Once you have them back, try your recall again to let them redeem themselves. This time have them receive that higher reward for successfully coming – this encourages what we call behavioural momentum (Ooh, fancy term).
Behavioural momentum is where an animal does something once and gets rewarded for it – then the likelihood is the next behaviour will be stronger.
FAQ on Puppy Recall Training
Start recall training with your puppy as soon as you get home by teaching them that their name predicts good things. ‘Good things’ are treats, by the way.
Using a whistle recall is very useful in teaching your puppy to come because the sound is loud and clear. Feel free to try it, but we tend to only use it when we’ve done lots of training to make sure it works.
First, don’t worry. They’re not deaf.
– Run over and pop a treat on their nose and run backwards.
– Get down low on the ground and call them in a happy silly voice – getsuring out with your hands to make yourself seem super interesting. Like a peacock.
– Learn from it – and use a long line next time until you’ve trained your dog to recall reliably.
Anything you like! But ‘come’, ‘here’, ‘recall’, ‘return’, and ‘quickly’ tend to be the popular ones. You could use something like ‘table’ or ‘chair’ though, feel free to get creative.
It really will depend on the dog and whether they’ve learnt to ignore you already! Uh-oh. But chin up, in a new young puppy who hasn’t had a chance to self reward and do their own thing, it’s generally faster.
Our blog has many more good articles that can support you every step along the way of your journey towards success. If we manage to get you into them, why not download the whole ZigZag app for the whole shebang?